Mizrahi Politics, Religion, and Ethnic Thinking





Mizrahi studies, Mizrahi religiosity, post-liberalism, performative citizenship, ethnic thinking


In recent decades two major approaches sought to explain the intersection of Mizrahi ethnicity and citizenship in Israel. Since the early 1990s, Yoav Peled’s Multiple Citizenship paradigm has become dominant in explaining the differential, hierarchical and fragmented incorporation regime. Accordingly, affiliation to Jewish religion was part of an ethno-national discourse of citizenship which confined Mizrahim (Jews emanating from Muslim countries) to be trapped between the hegemonic Ashkenazim (Jews of European descent) and the Palestinian citizens. Recently, a counter explanation was offered, based on the interpretive repertoires that shape the political behavior of Ashkenazim and Mizrahim. Contrary to the liberal presuppositions of the Multiple Citizenship paradigm, this explanation places greater emphasis on cultural rather than material factors shaping political behaviours and even broader worldviews, while identifying each ethnic group with opposing cultural repertoires. By proposing the idea of “ethnic thinking” this article focuses on the entanglements of religiosity in Mizrahi politics in two case studies – the Mizrahi Democratic Rainbow (the Keshet) and New Mizrahim. Rejecting the tendency to identify Mizrahim as predisposed to traditionalism, this article challenges both approaches that arguably fail to account for the performative aspects of Mizrahi citizenship.


Abu, Ofir. 2011. “Citizenship, Identity, and Ethnic Mobilization in Israel: The Mizrahi Democratic Rainbow – between Universalism and Particularism.” In The Contradictions of Israeli Citizenship: Land, Religion and State, edited by Guy Ben Porat and Bryan S. Turner, 111–34. London and New York: Routledge.

Adamker, Yaki. 2015. “Shas’ new economic platform: ‘Give to The Poor and Take from The Rich’.”, Walla! News, March 2, 2015.

Arad, Roee Cheeky. 2015. “Shas’ Future Lonely Hearts Club.” Haaretz, April 2, 2015.

Barth, Fredrik. 1969. “Introduction” In Ethnic Groups and Boundaries: The Social Organization of Culture Difference, edited by Fredrik Barth. Boston: Little Brown.

Behar, Moshea and Ben-Dor Benite Zvi. 2013. Modern Middle Eastern Jewish Thought: Writing on Identity, Politics, & Culture, 1893-1958. Massachusetts: Brandeis University Press Waltham.

Bhargava, Rajeev. 2010. “States, Religious Diversity, and the Crisis of Secularism.” The Hedgehog Review 12, no. 3. https://hedgehogreview.com/issues/does-religious-pluralism-require-secularism/articles/states-religious-diversity-and-the-crisis-of-secularism

Brodkin, Karen. 1998. How Jews Became White Folks and What That Says About Race in America. New Brunswick and London: Rutgers University Press.

Brubaker, Rogers. 2006. Ethnicity Without Groups. Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.

Buzaglo, Meir. 2007. ”Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” In A rainbow of Opinions: A Mizrahi Agenda for Society in Israel, 241-54. Jerusalem: November Books.

Casanova, José. 1994. Public Religions in the Modern World. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press.

Chetrit, Sami Shalom. 2004. The Mizrahi Struggle in Israel: Between Oppression and Liberation, Between Identification and an Alternative 1948-2003. Tel Aviv: Ofakim Am Oved.

Chetrit, Sami Shalom. 2009. Intra-Jewish Conflict in Israel: White Jews, Black Jews. London and New York: Routledge.

Chetrit, Sami Shalom. 2015. ”Why I Will Be Voting for Deri.” Haaretz, February 27, 2015.

Dahan, Yossi. 2007. ”The Riddle of the Trinity: Mizrahi, Democratic, Rainbow.” In A rainbow of Opinions: A Mizrahi Agenda for Society in Israel, 38-46. Jerusalem: November Books.

Eliachar, Eliyahu. 1975. Living with Palestinians. Jerusalim: Va'ad Edat Sephardim.

Fischer, Shlomo. 2012. “Yes, Israel Is Becoming More Religious.” Israel Studies Review 27, no. 1 (June): 10–16.

Hashash, Yali. 2022. Whose Daughter Are You? Ways of Speaking Mizrahi Feminism. Tel Aviv: Hakibbutzh Hameuchad.

Hasson, Amichai. 2014. ”One Who Is Half Ashkenazi and Half Mizrahi.” Makor Rishon, November 28, 2014.

Hirsch-Hoefler, Sivan, and Cas Mudde. 2020. The Israeli Settler Movement: Assessing and Explaining Social Movement Success. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Isin, Engin F. 2017. “Performative Citizenship.” In The Oxford Handbook of Citizenship, edited by Ayelet Shachar, Rainer Bauböck, Irene Bloemraad, and Maarten Vink, 500–523. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Isin, Engin F., and Peter Nyers. 2014. “Introduction: Globalizing Citizenship Studies.” In Routledge Handbook of Global Citizenship Studies, edited by Engin F. Isin and Peter Nyers, 1–11. London & New York: Routledge.

Jabareen, Hassan. 2014. “Hobbesian Citizenship: How the Palestinians Became a Minority in Israel.” In Multiculturalism and Minority Rights in the Arab World, edited by Will Kymlicka and Eva Pföstl, 189–218. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Jacobson, Abigail, and Naor Moshe. 2016. Oriental Neighbors: Middle Eastern Jews and Arabs in Mandatory Palestine. Waltham, Massachusetts: Brandeis University Press and University Press of New England.

Kaplan, Dana, and Levy Gal. 2017. ”The Arab Spring in the Israeli media and emergent conceptions of citizenship.” Arab Media & Society, no. 24 (Summer/Fall): 1-17.

Karif, Moshe. 2005. Hamizarhit: The Story of the Democratic Mizrahi Rainbow and the Social Struggle in Israel 1995-2005. Tel Aviv: Globes.

Kimmerling, Baruch. 2001. The Invention and Decline of Israeliness: State, Society and the Military. Berkeley, California: University of California Press.

Kizel, Aryeh. 2014. The New Mizrahi Narrative in Israel. Tel Aviv: Resling.

Leon, Nissim. 2023. “Soft Ultra-Orthodoxy: Revival Movement Activists, Synagogue Communities and the Mizrahi-Haredi Teshuva Movement in Israel.” Religions 14, no. 1: 1-13. https://doi.org/10.3390/rel14010089

Levy, Gal. 2002. “Ethnicity and Education: Nation-Building, State-Formation, and the Construction of the Israeli Educational System.” Ph.D. thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

Levy, Gal. 2007. ”Shinui and Continuity: A Secular Revolution?” Public Sphere 1: 135-47.

Levy, Gal. 2011. ”Secularism, Religion and the Status Quo”. In Religion and the state: A comparative sociology, edited by Jack M. Barbalet, Adam Possamai, & Bryan S. Turner, 93–119. Anthem Press.

Levy, Gal. 2014а. ”Contested Citizenship of the Arab Spring and Beyond.” In The Routledge Handbook of Global Citizenship Studies, edited by Engin Isis and Peter Nyers. 23-37. Abingdon on Thames: Routledge.

Levy, Gal. 2014b. ”On the failure of the white government, and perhaps the beginning of the end of the centre.” Haokets, December 12, 2014.

Levy, Gal. 2015. “Shas, the ‘Ethnic Demon’, and Mizrahi Politics Following the 2013 Elections.” In The Elections in Israel 2013, edited by Michal Shamir, 157–80. New Jersey: Transaction Publishers.

Levy, Gal. 2017. ”Mizrahi Politics and the Question of Religion: A Reassessment of the Multiple Citizenship paradigm.” Public Sphere 13: 197-225.

Levy, Gal, and Emmerich Ze’ev. 2001. ”Shas and the Ethnic Phantom.” In Shas; The Challenge of Israeliness, 126-58. Tel Aviv: Yediot Ahronot.

Levy, Gal, Maoz Rosenthal, and Ishak Saporta. 2022. “Ethnic Demons and Class Specters: Ethnic and Class Voting in Israel Revisited.” In The Elections in Israel, 2019–2021, 190-212. London and New York: Routledge.

Mahmood, Saba, and Danchin Peter. 2014. ”Immunity or Regulation?: Antinomies of Religious Freedom.” The South Atlantic Quarterly 113, no. 1: 129-59.

Marom, Nathan. 2013. ”Activising Space: The Spatial Politics of the 2011 Protest Movement in Israel.” Urban Studies 50, no. 3: 2826–41. https://doi.org/10.1177/0042098013477699

Misgav, Chen. 2013. ”A Flashlight to Israel's Backyard: The 2011 Protest from an Urban Periphery Perspective.” Theory and Criticism 41: 97-119.

Mizrachi, Nissim. 2016. ”Sociology in the Garden: Beyond the Liberal Grammar of Contemporary Sociology.” Israel Studies Review 31, no. 1: 36–65. https://doi.org/10.3167/isr.2016.310104

Nahmias, Omri. 2015. ”Shas Opens its Gates to Seculars and Social Activists – But Not To Women.” Walla! News, February 3, 2015.

Nir, Elchanan. 2014. ”What Does the Mizrahi Question Have to Do with Us?” Makor Rishon, November 28, 2014.

Peled, Yoav. 1998. “Towards a Redefinition of Jewish Nationalism in Israel? The Enigma of Shas.” Ethnic and Racial Studies 21, no. 4: 703–27. https://doi.org/10.1080/014198798329838

Peled, Yoav, and Horit Herman Peled. 2020. The Religionization of Israeli Society. First issued in paperback. London New York: Routledge.

Ram, Uri. 1995. The Changing Agenda of Israeli Sociology: Theory, Ideology, and Identity. New York: SUNY Press.

Shafir, Gershon, and Peled Yoav. 2002. Being Israeli: The Dynamics of Multiple Citizenship. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Shalev, Michael, and Gal Levy. 2005. “The Winners and Losers of 2003: Ideology, Social Structure and Political Change.” In The Elections in Israel, 2003, edited by Asher Arian and Michal Shamir, 167–86. New Brunswick and London: Transaction Publishers.

Shani-Shitrit, Efrat. 2015. ”Can Shas Be My Home?” Ha'oketz, January 27, 2015.

Shohat, Ella. 1998. ”Sephardim in Israel: Zionism from the Standpoint of Its Jewish Victims.” Social Text 19/20: 1–35.

Tatour, Lana. 2019. “Citizenship as Domination: Settler Colonialism and the Making of Palestinian Citizenship in Israel.” Arab Studies Journal XXVII, no. 2: 8–39.

Toubul, Ofir. 2014. ”Deri must bring back the voters that switched over to Bennet.” NRG, November 23, 2014.

Toubul, Ofir. 2015. ”Lawyer and activist Ofir Toubul speaks at the Shas conference.” https://youtu.be/fu2T_qIuHFw

Tully, James. 2014. On Global Citizenship: James Tully in Dialogue. London: Bloomsbury.

Isin, Engin F., and Bryan S. Turner. 2007. “Investigating Citizenship: An Agenda for Citizenship Studies.” Citizenship Studies 11, no. 1: 5–17. https://doi.org/10.1080/13621020601099773

Yifrach, Yehuda. 2014. ”Pink Panther.” Makor Rishon, November 28, 2014.

Yonah, Yossi, Naaman, Yonit, and Mahlev David. 2007. ”The Rainbow: Achievements, Conflicts and Challenges.” In A rainbow of Opinions: A Mizrahi Agenda for Society in Israel. Jerusalem: November Books.

Zelniker, Shimshon, and Kahan Michael. 1976. ”Religion and Nascent Cleavages: The Case of Israel's National Religious Party.” Comparative Politics 9, no. 1: 21-48.




How to Cite

Levy, G. (2024). Mizrahi Politics, Religion, and Ethnic Thinking. Politics and Religion Journal, 18(1), 49–75. https://doi.org/10.54561/prj1801049l